Lebron James, Brett Favre, Terrell Owens. These athletes dominated the press this year, yet in 2010 nearly all of the attention they received was negative. Sometimes we lose focus on the good guys in sports: the athletes who everyone love because of their senses of responsibility to their fans, duty to their communities, and desire to entertain on and off the field.
Lebron James is a disloyal quitter. Brett Favre is a flip-flopping egomaniac. Players like T.O. and Ron Artest? They may be fun to hate, but they are certainly not positive role models.
So instead of spreading the hate, here are 2010's most adored athletes.
While he was undoubtedly an essential factor in the orchestration of the most controversial story in the much anticipated “Summer of 2010” in the NBA, surprisingly, Dwayne Wade has taken none of the “heat” for the construction of what is now the most hated team in the NBA. As Lebron James and Chris Bosh continue to be on the receiving end of much hate from their owners, fans, and analysts, Wade has emerged from the now notorious free agency process relatively unscathed.
Additionally, Wade has been acknowledged throughout the media as of late as a stand-up citizen and model NBA player. This summer Wade co-sponsored with Alonzo Mourning “The Summer Groove” which raised more than $7 million for local charities. Wade also hosted “Wade’s Weekend,” a youth summit and basketball camp that encourages children to stay in school in his hometown of Chicago.
Not even 30 years old yet, Roger Federer is considered by many to be the greatest tennis player of all time. Federer revitalized interest in tennis with his fierce rivalry with Rafael Nadal, and his ability to dominate on clay, grass, or hard courts has made him a role model for many aspiring tennis players. The number one ranked player for a record 237 consecutive weeks, Federer is not only known for his obvious skill, but also for his sportsmanship and service on and off the court. Particularly, his contributions to UNICEF and his outreach through the Roger Federer Foundation led to Federer being named a 2010 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
Everybody loves the underdog and Welker certainly fits the role. Welker was not highly recruited out of high school, and he only received a spot at Texas Tech at the last minute because another wide receiver decommitted. Despite setting records at Texas Tech and earning numerous awards for his prolific contributions on offense and special teams, Welker was not even invited to the NFL scouting combine because he was considered too small to play on the next level. Certainly, the star wideout has proved his doubters wrong. In 2009, Welker led the league with 123 receptions, marking the second highest total in the league history.
In week 17 of last year, Welker tore both his ACL and MCL forcing him to miss the 2010 playoffs. Despite the expected recovery time of his injury, Welker once again answered his skeptics by appearing in training camp (with a knee brace) well ahead of his scheduled return date. Welker encompasses the toughness and competitive nature that even Jet fans can admire.
Lefty, over the past decade, has been overshadowed by Tiger Woods. Now that Woods has become one of the most villainous athletes in all of sports, Mickelson has emerged as the front-runner to be the new favorite. When Mickelson won the 2010 Masters’ earlier this year it was considered a specifically special achievement due to both his wife and mother’s struggles with breast cancer. The emotional win was crowned with the capturing of the poignant moment where Mickelson greeted his wife Amy after sinking his final putt.
In what is known as The Steroid Age in baseball, there is one slugger who has been able to maintain a clean image throughout and that is Albert Pujols. The three time MVP is widely known for both his amazing baseball prowess as well as his off the field accomplishments. Pujols is known as a team player who is also loyal to his organization signing a 7 year 100 million dollar deal in 2004 to stay with the Cardinals, the team that first gave him a chance drafting him in 1999. In 2008, Pujols won the Roberto Clemente Award acknowledging all that he does off the field, particularly noting his charity work in the Dominican Republic as well as his work in the United States caring for people afflicted by Down Syndrome.
The two time NBA MVP from the Great White North has demonstrated that Canada can produce great athletes besides hockey players. In a an NBA that has trended towards the top players relying more on athleticism rather than court vision and basketball IQ, Nash has demonstrated that the little guy can be influential in today’s game. Known as “the nice guy” around the league, Nash has certainly displayed his charitable spirit off the court with the Steve Nash Foundation which received the Steve Patterson Award for Excellence in Sports Philanthropy in 2008. Nash’s hobbies include video production, and he has filmed two Nike commercials that have both become highly popular viral videos.
The first player inducted into the Arena League Football hall of fame wasn’t too shabby in the NFL either. Despite being released in 1999 by the San Francisco 49ers and resorting to stocking grocery shelves, Warner went on to set numerous records as an NFL quarterback winning two MVPs and one Superbowl with the St. Louis Rams. Off the field, Warner has won The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2008 and the Bart Starr Man of the Year Award in 2009 and is known for his charity towards the First Things First foundation. While Warner will be missed by the NFL after his retirement this past year, he will not disappear from football as he is set to become a color analyst for NFL network in this coming season.
The Big Aristotle, Diesel, Shaqtus, and now the Big Shamrock. There is no one in all of sports with more nicknames than Shaquille O’Neal. With his hilarious antics on and off the court, Shaq has garnered much fame as the jolly giant of the NBA. Despite some questionable attacks on former teammates (I heard something about a feud with Kobe?) and coaches and an even more questionable movie role (Kazaam anyone?), Shaq has been adored for his ability to consistently entertain fans and the media. Plus anyone willing to go this far for entertainment http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9DRxN4NzEQ) deserves some credit
As Manning himself once said in a commercial, you might like Peyton Manning because he is a “6’5” quarterback with a laser rocket arm.” Manning, who is known for his side-splitting commercials almost as much as his unbelievable football skills, has become one of the most popular players in the NFL today. Add in the fact that Manning has won numerous accolades for his charity work, a friendly competition with his brother Eli (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbA2BrgKgns), and a stint hosting Saturday Night Live, and it’s no wonder why people love Peyton Manning so much.
Sorry Red Sox fans. You may love to hate “the Captain,” but despite the general consensus of the Yankees as “the Evil Empire,” Derek Jeter is immensely popular throughout baseball. With too many accolades to name, Jeter is a 5-time World Series champion, 4-time gold glove winner, 11-time all-star, and perhaps most importantly the New York Yankee career hits leader. Teammates and opponents have both acknowledged Jeter as the ultimate professional, displaying sportsmanship and humility throughout his career.
The most marketable player in baseball, according to 2010 Sports Business Surveys, Jeter has been the focus of several marketing campaigns over the years most notably featured in Gatorade, Nike, and Visa commercials. He has been linked with several celebrities since 1996 including Mariah Carey, Vanessa Minillo, and Jessica Biel. Jeter’s Turn Two Foundation has also been lauded for helping teens turn away from drugs and alcohol. And if that wasn’t enough, Jeter has his own wax figure at Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum in New York.